Gerald Hatherly is originally from Canada, but he has lived in Hong Kong for 32 years and speaks flawless Mandarin. Here is his take on what’s really behind the Hong Kong protests.
How did this all start?
It started with a murder case in Taiwan where a Hong Kong man murdered his girlfriend but has revealed problems with long-simmering social issues. There is no extradition law [between] Hong Kong and Taiwan or China. [The suspect can’t be charged in Hong Kong, but he also can’t be extradited to Taiwan.] That case could not be resolved, so Carrie Lam, the current chief executive of the Hong Kong government, proposed a law based on that case [that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to Taiwan and China]. But the wider implications of the law were that China would have extradition power over Hong Kong and people that it suspected of various crimes, including expats and local Hong Kong Chinese.
This set off alarm bells in Hong Kong, where people who might be critical of China would be subject to extradition. That launched the first big protest on June 9.
Why are the protests still happening?
There are many other reasons why people are protesting.
One reason is the strain on Hong Kong’s health-care system. It’s been more than 20 years since the passage of the Hong Kong Basic Law and Hong Kong’s return to China, and there are now about 1 million mainland Chinese who hold Hong Kong ID cards that allow them access to the public health system in Hong Kong. There is a real concern that our public health-care system is imploding.
And the real estate market is a huge issue. Prices have always been high, but it’s worse than ever. Young people can no longer buy into the system here. A 300-square-foot studio apartment will cost around $1 million USD. Even if you’re a doctor, lawyer, or banker, you can’t buy into this. There is an evolving depression that young people don’t have a stake in their own future.
I don’t see any resolution unless China and Hong Kong both make conciliatory gestures to address these issues.
What does it mean for travelers?
Watching it on CNN is different than the reality. The huge protest on Sunday, August 18, with about 1.7 million people was generally peaceful and orderly. The airport situation last week was terrible, and A&K had to change flights. But other than that, no one has encountered anything in Hong Kong, and we’ve had a lot of travelers. We monitor the situation every day and meet with every client in Hong Kong to discuss. As a company, we decided to refund money to anyone who is visiting Hong Kong only and wanted to change their plans. If Hong Kong is part of a multi-country itinerary, we suggest amending the itinerary to bypass the city if the traveler feels any concern about visiting.
Should people travel to Hong Kong now?
I wouldn’t say “stay away,” but if you’re personally nervous about it, don’t come now.
What do you think will happen next?
No one knows. China hasn’t interfered yet, aside from threatening statements. Perhaps they’re hoping the protests die down. In September, schools and universities reopen. The majority of protesters are young people, and maybe the authorities are hoping that a lot of the protests will decline. In 2047, the Basic Law will end, and there is supposed to be full integration into China. But over the last 20-plus years, these problems have slowly infiltrated Hong Kong and no one has addressed them.
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